Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Disabled child unable to have operation due to council failings

A disabled child who has significant medical needs and uses a wheelchair was unable to have a crucial operation after Lambeth council failed to move the family to suitable accommodation.

In April 2019, an Occupational Therapist (OT) visited the child at their home, and then wrote to Lambeth council to say that the property was unsuitable and could not meet the child’s needs.

The property was so unsuitable, medical specialists said the child could not have a key operation until they were in more appropriate accommodation.

However, the child was not moved to more appropriate accommodation until October 2022, leaving the child in pain and unable to get around their own home for three and a half years.

Unsuitability of the home meant specialist equipment could not be installed

The child’s home was so unsuitable, they were forced to leave their wheelchair outside the property, despite them finding it difficult to move around inside without it.

The child also required a special bed, supportive seating and specialist equipment for carrying and lifting. However, none of this equipment could be installed.

This caused the child pain and meant that simple, day-to-day tasks such as eating, drinking and sleeping were unsafe.

Despite being told how unsuitable the accommodation was repeatedly by the family, their school, social workers, OTs, and the child’s medical team who raised safeguarding concerns, the council did not take any action.

The OT wrote to the council to say that the child’s health was deteriorating, they were in constant pain and required regular medication and injections. They wrote: “The long-term impact of [them] being unsuitably housed means [they] will have no bones in [their] hips to keep [their] legs in place.

“This will make it more difficult to support [them] with manual handling and positioning. [They] will also never be able to be supported in standing.”

By the time the child was rehoused, the original operation was no longer and option.

Council has agreed to pay the family £20,000

Nigel Ellis, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Chief Executive, said there were “numerous significant faults” with the way the council dealt with the family’s housing situation, including their refusal to accept it had a housing duty to the family, its communication with the family and poor handling of their complaint.

Mr Ellis has now ordered the council to pay the family a combined £20,000 for the time spent in unsuitable accommodation at avoidable risk of harm, pain and lack of dignity they suffered.

He said: “While I appreciate the family needed quite specific accommodation which would be difficult to source, we have found no evidence the council made any efforts to find anything suitable for much of the three years they were in the property. As a result, the child and their mother were put to a significant and avoidable risk of harm over a prolonged period.

“The council has now agreed to a wholescale external review of its housing service, which I hope will go some way to preventing situations like this from happening to other vulnerable families.”

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